A Theory of Cognition

Cognition as (Inter)Activity in the Techno-Cultural World

* How do we learn?

* How do learning, culture and technology belong to or juxtapose with cognition?

* What is cognition in a rich reality, complex and shared world?

New perspectives on thinking and learning view cognition not only as the mental processing of information occurring in the brain, but also, and more importantly, as (inter)activity in our technological and cultural worlds. Techno-cultural theory, which is grounded in the interdisciplinary study of The Learning Sciences, asserts that cognition is inseparable from epistemology and ontology as a complex system of technological and cultural phenomenon distributed over (not divided amongst) mind, body, artifact and activity in socially organized settings. In this view, cognition is not bounded by the skin or the skull, but is a cultural process of coming to be, in-interaction-with the technologies that we use (Petrina et al., 2008, p.386).

Learning can be thought of as:
1) “adaptive reorganization in a complex system” (Hutchins, 1995, p.289) or
2) “assembling what assembles the world” (Petrina et. al, in press) or
3) progress or growth along a trajectory of participation within a community of practice (Greeno, 1997).

Learning and making sense of things are part and parcel of what people do in the world. I believe that we come to understand our being in the world through: 1) interaction with natural and technological resources, and 2) participation within specific cultural contexts which have their own characteristic discourses, values and goals. For example, think of any idea or object (concrete or abstract): you become familiar with the affordances and constraints of that idea or object by interacting with it. At the same time, your experiences are shaped by your belonging to a particular community of people for whom the object has meaning, usefulness and relevance.

This techno-cultural perspective informs my research: in order to investigate cognition and the kind of learning that takes place in game-play and game-design, I must understand that game worlds are not merely digital environments where things just happen, rather, they are distinctive cultures and technologically-mediated communities where people engage in complex (individual and collaborative) cognitive activities and substantial identity development as well (aka: learning).

Your thoughts? PJ

Greeno, J. (1997). Response: On claims that answer the wrong questions. Educational Researcher, 26 (1), 5-17.

Hutchins, E. (1995). Cognition in the wild. Cambridge, MA: MIT Press.

Petrina, S., Feng, F. & Kim, J. (2008). Researching cognition and technology: How we learn across the lifespan. International Journal of Technology and Design Education, 18, 375-396.

Petrina, S., Castro, J., Feng, F., Hall, L., James, K., Kojima, D., Rusnak, P. & Trey, L. (submitted 9 May 2008). On learning, and the learning arts, sciences and technologies. Learning Inquiry.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *